Alternative Military Transport Vehicles
Alternative Military Transport Vehicles
In recent articles I have discussed the idea that future military vehicles will either have to feature more extensive protective measures, or employ strategies such as mimesis; blending in and mimicking civilian vehicles.
Understandably, it is with some exasperation that I view articles such as this. On the positive side, the vehicle does utilize commercially available components. On the other hand, they seem to have gone out of their way to stop it resembling a civilian vehicle. Certainly it has no protection, not even from the wind, dust and rain.
It does provide a convenient opportunity for an attacker to wipe out an entire squad.
Why would the Army need 649 of these, let alone 2,065?
Many articles on the Scrapboard have looked at combat vehicles, so this one will share some thoughts on “other” military vehicles.
In a previous article, it was discussed how an adequately armoured vehicle can be a tactical asset.
It is equally true that an inadequately protected vehicle can be liability.
Also introduced was the idea of “diminishing returns” in vehicle armour. There is little logic in adding tons of extra mass if it does not make a significant improvement in protection. Mass reduces mobility, and reduced mobility makes a target easier to hit.
It is hoped that a wider understanding of the concept of “optimizing” armour will result in improvements in mobility for future combat vehicles.
Armoured vehicles are not noted for their speed or fuel economy. While new technologies and design approaches may show some improvements in these areas, the strategic mobility of such vehicles may still be too limited for modern high-tempo operations.
In other words, by the time an armoured column reaches a distant location, the fight may be done and the enemy gone.
There are several possible approaches to this problem.
One is to mount your force on faster, less-protected vehicles. We have seen this approach used by irregular forces, often using pickups and other civilian vehicles to rapidly relocate.
This is a high risk gambit, however. Fast travel requires roads or good terrain. Often terrain restricts movement to roadways, which may not be that good. Fast motor columns are vulnerable to enemy action, and have little protection against attack, especially from more mobile and faster aircraft. Even in safe areas, such columns are limited to road speed, which is subject to road condition and other restrictions.
Moving a force by air offers a number of advantages. Assets can be rapidly moved across a theatre, or to another theatre.
One drawback is that once landed, a force is often limited to foot-mobility.
Prudence demands that a force be landed some distance from an enemy, posing the problem of reaching the operational area without giving the enemy time for reaction or preparation.
Troops need transport that can be landed with them.
Tactical transports such as the C-130 can move only a relatively small selection of vehicle models.
Most helicopters cannot internally transport even lightweight vehicles.
Many infantry forces have equipment and stores that require vehicle transport. An air-landed force may need artillery and engineering support, which are even more vehicle-dependant.
Clearly, in addition to well-armoured vehicles, the military inventory requires an adequate range of vehicles that can be easily moved by fixed or rotary wing aircraft.
The vehicle-loading features of future transport helicopter designs needs to be addressed.
Infantry elements need to replace many current items of equipment with man-portable alternatives wherever is practical.
In addition to having such a variety of vehicles available, soldiers need to recognize when the use of a particular type is or is not appropriate. Modern infantryman must appreciate the various merits and flaws of different vehicle types.
The original jeep was created as a vehicle “...of light weight and compact size, with a low silhouette and high ground clearance, and possess the ability to carry weapons and men over all sorts of rough terrain”.
Popular though the jeep was, it was easily overloaded.
Add, say, a 106mm recoilless rifle, some ammunition and a crew, and the vehicle was no longer the agile cross-country platform that was intended.
Increasing capacity created new problems. More space leads to more cargo. If there was room for a squad, why not carry a squad?
The result is a vehicle that needs to be able to handle at least a ton of cargo.
Increased weight and size decreases cross-country performance.
Greater dependence on roads increases the likelihood of ambush, requiring added protection.
This increases weight further, and so on.
The jeep has evolved into something very far from a compact, low silhouette, agile cross-country transport!
It is clear that vehicles such as the HMMWV or nine-seat Colorado truck is not a replacement for the jeep!
A useful rule of thumb is that the maximum passenger capacity for an unarmoured vehicle is five soldier-passengers for each half-ton of cargo capacity (FM 10-35, 1945 p.39).
During the Second World War, the Soviet Army found the amphibious GPA “Seep” to be a very useful vehicle, using it for reconnaissance and to deploy troops in difficult to access locations.
Amphibious capability is a feature seldom seen on modern alternatives.
There have been some attempts to reintroduce jeep-like capability.
For a while, dune-buggy derived vehicles such as the FAV/DPV/LSV were in vogue.
A common criticism was their low cargo capacity. Like jeeps, they were readily overloaded. Mounting a weapon on a vehicle does not automatically make it a combat vehicle.
Vehicles such as the Supacat ATMP and M-Gator have proved of more use, but may be possibly too wide for certain types of terrain.
The military still have a need for compact cross-country vehicles, particularly those that can operate in environments that would be difficult for larger vehicles.
There are a number of existing and potential alternatives.
Quad bikes, aka small ATVs, are already in use in many forces.
The primary military role of the quad is as a cargo carrier. They can be thought of as “one-man jeeps”, capable of carrying cargo on-board and also by towed trailer.
Their narrow width allows them to utilize mountain tracks, forest trails or jungle paths.
Such vehicles are well suited to troops operating in a quasi-guerrilla role.
For logistical reasons, diesel engines are preferred. There are obvious advantages to evolving towards quieter hybrid configurations for these vehicles.
While reading about Pentomic divisions, I came across the information that the ½-ton M-274 Mechanical Mule could be towed behind a jeep like a trailer.
In fact, the article in Infantry, Jan 1958 p.13 suggested that a rifle company add three Mules and delete one of its ¼-ton trailers.
It was noted the Mules could haul ammunition across any terrain the mortars or the rest of the company was likely to deploy in.
Possibly quads could be towed by larger vehicles, providing a unit with the capability to readily operate in terrain not suited for larger vehicles.
The design features of the Mule, such as its steering options, are worth looking at.
The most useful feature of the e-bike is stealth.
I have discussed these vehicles in some detail in another article, so will not repeat myself here.
Where an e-bike cannot carry a soldier, a soldier can sometimes carry a bike.
A scout with his bike may be concealed easily and quickly by both lying under a lightweight section of net.
I expect that very soon we will see greater use of “recon-scopes”: combined telescopes, cameras, laser and passive rangefinders, GPS, INS and designators.
Not only will recon-scopes record information, but burst-transmit it when desired.
An agent or scout with a recon-scope and an e-bike will be an extremely useful asset.
Motorbikes are suited for situations where speed is a priority over stealth, capacity or protection.
In a previous article, nearly twenty years ago, I described how bike-mounted forces can permit the rapid relocation of forces.
This more recent article describes such uses in recent conflicts.
The German Army of the 1930s and 40s equipped entire companies and battalions mainly with motorcycles. Part of the reason for this was a shortage of military trucks and half-tracks. Motorcycles and motorcycle-combinations were a quick and easy way to motorize infantry.
The strategic speed and mobility the motorcycles provided probably contributed to the rapid advances the German Army was noted for in the early years of the war. However, the vulnerability of motorbike units lead to a decrease in their use as the war progressed.
This webpage notes that experiments with US cavalry troopers on motorbikes were abandoned because “too many troopers were injured in the field with little reconnaissance value added.”
If a force must be moved by unprotected vehicle, it makes more sense to disperse them on bikes rather than clustering them in a single truck such as a HMMWV or ZR2 Colorado.
The bikes can utilize routes that a truck cannot. If a bike is damaged, the rider can double-up on another bike. Like an e-bike, but unlike a truck or FAV, a motorbike can be quickly and easily concealed.
Motorbikes can also provide a means of communication between elements when radio is unavailable or compromised.
Main improvement is likely to be hybrid-electric/diesel systems. This will simplify logistics, increase endurance and reduce acoustic signature.
Another role for motorbikes is the infiltration of covert agents or operators. In “100 Deadly Skills” by Clint Emerson, the author notes that motorbikes are commonly available in neighbouring territories and relatively easily stolen.
The use of motorcycles and/or e-bikes with helicopter-mobile operations needs further investigation.
When I visited Gracelands, Memphis, one of the things I saw was snowmobiles fitted with wheels.
Several of my articles have touched on the military potential for such a vehicle configuration. Essentially, you have created a motorcycle-sized half-track, more compact than the German Kettenkrad.
Applications would be similar to that of a quad, but cross-country ability can be expected to be even better.
A company called Sand-X is promoting a vehicle of this type, which they logically designate as T-ATV, the initial T representing “tracked”.
I don’t know if they were inspired by Elvis too!
Sand-X demonstrate an impressive performance for their prototype. In addition to its cross country capabilities, it can reach 180km/h (112 mph) and 0-100 km/h in three seconds. This is using a 1200cc petrol engine, however. A military version should probably use diesel, or preferably hybrid-electric/diesel.
The British Universal Carrier was one of the most extensively produced armoured vehicles of all time.
Captured examples were readily put into service (left). The Italians even produced their own version.
A light, tracked utility vehicle is clearly a useful asset.
I have discussed Universal Carriers in some detail in another article, so will not go into depth here.
For those that have not yet read my other article, it is worth reminding the reader that Universal Carriers were not tanks nor APCs. “Armoured Weapon Carrier” is a more accurate term.
Universals were mostly used by standard infantry battalions, rather than by armoured forces.
A British infantry battalion had a platoon of carriers that served as a mobile reserve of light support weapons (Bren guns, 2" mortars and Boys ATR/PIAT).
The battalion mortar platoon was also equipped with Universals.
Battalion and company commanders each had a carrier for forward area transport.
Carriers were also utilized to move supplies and evacuate casualties.
The slightly larger Loyd or Windsor carriers towed the battalion’s anti-tank guns. The Loyd used many components also used by the Universal Carrier and Ford/Fordson truck parts (vehicles also common in the infantry battalion).
The tracked carriers could traverse terrain that was impassable to jeeps. Unlike jeeps, carriers had some resistance to small-arms fire and shell splinters.
Many European armies had used low, tracked armoured vehicles such as the Chenillette UE or Borgward munitionsschlepper for forward unit resupply.
When it comes to the honour roll of World War Two vehicles, the Weasel is very much the unsung hero.
The idea for the Weasel originated with the British scientist Geoffrey Pyke, famous as the originator of Pykrete.
Pyke wanted commandos to attack the German-held heavy-water production facilities in Norway, and felt that these forces would need a vehicle that could go with them.
In later decades, such an plan would be described as an “air-mechanized special operation”.
The vehicle for this operation needed to be of a size and mass that could be transported by current aircraft, and capable of air-drop, seaborne insertion and/or glider landing.
Good over-snow and cross-country performance were a requirement. The ability to “freewheel” down hills for a quieter approach was included.
The Weasel can be thought of as a Universal carrier sent to commando school!
The Weasel never went to Norway, but served in many other theatres, negotiating sand, snow, swamp and mud.
Where the jeep could not go, the Weasel could.
Nearly anywhere the infantry could go, the Weasel could reach them with supplies.
Most models of Weasel were amphibious, with the M29C having increased capabilities.
Ground pressure of the Weasel’s track was less than that of a human foot, an advantage over many forms of land mine.
A compact, lightweight tracked vehicle is conspicuously absent from most modern army’s inventories. The utility of such a vehicle cannot be questioned, particularly if it can be transported by light or medium helicopter assets.
Such a vehicle would also be useful for civilian organizations such as Mountain and Avalanche Rescue.
Ontos: A Missed Chance
The Osprey publication on the “M50 Ontos and M56 Scorpion 1956-70” gives an interesting account of the origins of the Ontos.
After the Korean War, US Army Ordinance suggested (p.11) “a small, lightly-armored, cross-country vehicle...along the lines of the existing Weasel or British Bren [sic. Universal] Carrier.”
The potential of such a vehicle to create a low-cost, low-profile, highly agile tank-killer armed with multiple recoilless rifles, was recognized in certain quarters.
It was proposed by Project Vista (p.14) that a combination of anti-tank mines and such tank-hunters, supported by artillery, infantry and air-power, could neutralize invading Soviet armoured forces. “Because of the low cost and simplicity of the vehicle, ‘our requirements for 6,636 Ontos antitank vehicles, six million conventional antitank mines and 14 million unremovable antitank mines is within the capacity of NATO to supply on position within a relatively short time.’”
With such uses envisioned, the anti-tank variant of the “lightly-armoured cross country vehicle” received priority.
In a theme still seen today, the US Army insisted that the troop-carrying variant vehicle should be able to carry a full squad.
The utility variant was abandoned when demands for a ten-man carrier proved impractical.
Changes in policy caused the Army to reject the Ontos.
Ontos was used in relatively small numbers by the USMC, seeing service as in Vietnam as highly mobile fire support platform.
Ontos could be air-lifted as an underslung load by MH-53 helicopters.
Ontos were also put to use towing improvised sleds to resupply units in exposed positions.
M56 Scorpion: Another Missed Chance
Another “missed chance” for a light tracked vehicle occurred with the M56 Scorpion.
Developed as a mobile anti-tank gun for airborne forces, the Pentomic reorganization added a platoon (6 weapons) of M56s to each infantry “battle group” (reinforced battalion).
The Oct-Dec 1958 edition of Infantry Magazine (p.5) has a discussion of the M56 with details of experiments with using the platform for other weapons, such as the 106mm recoilless rifle, 81mm and 4.2" mortars. Mounting the 4.5" M20 multiple rocket launcher or quad .50 MG mount is also suggested.
The article notes the tracked M56 needs no more first echelon maintenance than a ¼-ton truck (jeep).
It also observes that a jeep carrying a 106mm and crew is overloaded, and has limited cross-country capability, unlike the tracked 106mm-armed M56. The jeep can carry only seven rounds, while the M56 can carry thirty.
The Jan-Mar 1959 edition of Infantry (p.26), expands on the advantages and suitability of the M56 platform as a light, highly mobile heavy-mortar carrier.
Mention is made in the first article of an amphibious, personnel-carrying prototype variant of the M56. Photographs suggest this is actually the T55/T56 prototype utility/APC variants of the Ontos.
Unlike the Ontos, the M56 vehicle was unarmoured.
Motorbikes, e-bikes and quad-bikes all have a niche in a modern military formation. The “cycle-halftrack” has the potential to substitute or supplement some of these vehicles.
Transportation within freight vehicles (“infiltrate by freight”) is another possibility.
The role of jeep-type vehicles needs to be approached with caution.
The need for a light, highly mobile, tracked vehicle to supplement or substitute for heavier armoured vehicles remains.
Light tracked vehicles need to be designed with transport by light aircraft and helicopters in mind.
Such vehicles may need to operate in close, restrictive terrain, so width needs to be carefully considered.
Low height will aid camouflage and increase survivability.
Ideally, the light track can go nearly anywhere an infantryman can. It carries the packs, supplies and heavy weapons, leaving the infantry more alert and less fatigued.
Amphibious capability is desirable. Amphibious vehicles can assist infantry in river crossings even if there is not room to carry all personnel.
While intended as a transport rather than a fighting vehicle, basic protection for vehicle components against small-arms and shell-splinters will be needed. Despite the armour, this is a packhorse rather than a warhorse.
Weight is a major consideration for an air-portable cross-country vehicle. Small size is also an advantage. The vehicle should be designed to carry no more than a fire team or weapon crew, rather than a full squad.
Where possible, components already used in commonly available other vehicles should be utilized.